Too busy? Lean recruitment is probably the solution

Last updated:
February 26, 2021
December 22, 2021
min read
Brendan McConnell
Table of contents

If there are two realities that almost every recruitment team shares, it’s the ongoing battle to find talent and the excessive workload that often comes with it. Because of this, and the resulting time and HR constraints, it’s easy to fall into a routine or process that may not be producing the best results. To combat this status quo, many companies have begun to adopt lean recruitment to improve and streamline their hiring.

What is lean recruitment?

Lean recruitment comes directly from the concept of lean manufacturing, a supply chain technique made famous by Toyota. In a nutshell, lean manufacturing is a methodology that aims to reduce costs and waste during production, leading to better outcomes.

The main principles of lean methodology are as follows:

  1. Continuous improvement;
  2. Respect for people;
  3. Long-term principles;
  4. The right to produce the right results;
  5. Adding value to the organization by developing people and partners; and
  6. Continuously solving root problems and driving organizational learning.

As you can see, lean is all about empowering your people to continuously introduce, monitor, and adapt their workflows, learn from their mistakes, and find ways to deliver the best results.

So how does “lean” apply to recruitment?

Like manufacturing, recruitment is based on supply and demand. Vacancies pop up continuously in an organization (demand) and it’s the recruiter’s job to fill them (supply). Like in manufacturing, delays or backlogs in filling those vacancies can lead to lost productivity and revenue.

And there can be a lot of waste in the hiring process that leads to delays in supplying the demand. Some examples of waste in recruitment can include:

  • Excessive time spent at any stage in the recruitment process.
  • Using expensive, but ineffective sources for finding candidates.
  • Relying too heavily on data, or on the wrong data.
  • Delays in contacting candidates, or in scheduling interviews.
  • Technical delays due to inadequate HR tech.

The process of lean recruitment aims to identify and eliminate as much of this wasted time and resources as possible. As waste is reduced, the overall hiring process becomes more efficient, successful, and cost-effective. Fundamentally, lean recruitment’s goal is to deliver more value from hiring, while using fewer resources. This leads to a net benefit for the company.

Finally, lean methodology is proactive, not reactive. It dictates that employees should always strive to improve their workflows, rather than react to challenges as or after they happen. This ties directly to proactive recruitment strategies that are becoming more and more popular today.

Lean recruitment and pipelines

Proactive recruitment aims to backfill the pipelines of high-quality prospects. That way, when a vacancy arises, the recruiter will have an inventory to mine immediately, reducing time and resource wastage.

In lean manufacturing, this concept is called “Just in Time” production. For this article, we’ll change that to Just in Time (JIT) recruitment.

This concept dictates that you should only call upon your resources (in this case candidates) when you need them, rather than creating a backlog of contacts that you may never use. In manufacturing, the equivalent would be overstocking on certain production items that aren’t mission-critical right now.

In recruitment, pipelines can be used to ensure that you not only have a continuous flow of resources to mine when needed but that those candidates are also of high quality. By focussing on strong relationship building, employee referral programs, and networking, recruiters can create high-quality pipelines that will enable a JIT strategy.

As you can see, JIT recruitment turns the usual recruitment workflow on its head. Rather than posting a job ad and collecting hundreds of net new candidates, JIT recruitment and pipelines allow you to focus on the resources that you already have. This can be a huge time saver when filling vacant positions.

Of course, not all job openings are the same, and not all pipelines are going to contain that perfect candidate. Sometimes you will need to branch out and source new recruits the old fashioned way.

We’ll take a look at how lean recruitment can be used to drive efficiency in a complete hiring process. But first, let’s quickly summarize why you should adopt a lean recruitment approach in the first place.

Why use lean recruitment?

As mentioned, recruitment often takes a reactive approach to hiring. Lean recruitment, by nature, is proactive. It proactively analyzes your existing recruitment strategy, suggests improvements, and monitors the results, leading to continuous improvement.

Through a variety of approaches and techniques, leans recruitment cuts down on time to hire, uses fewer resources, and eliminates excess waste. The result is that your recruitment team is freed from time-consuming tasks and is able to focus on more strategic mandates that help drive the company forward.

When recruiters aren’t spending all of their time screening resumes, scheduling interviews, or sending rejection emails (to name a few of the many repetitive tasks), they are free to take on more beneficial activities like:

  • Capacity planning and needs forecasting
  • Meeting with business to determine future skills requirements for client projects
  • Developing relationships within the industry
  • Attending networking events
  • Building relationships with hiring managers
  • Personal professional development
  • Strategic planning with the executive team

In other words, lean recruitment lets recruiters focus on the tasks that they likely want to be doing anyway. And, it means that the company doesn’t have to pay employees to do work that doesn’t fundamentally move the dial on the overall strategic direction of the organization.

Now that we’ve talked about why lean recruitment is a good idea, let’s jump into how to get started.

How to get started with lean recruitment

Lean recruitment, as mentioned, involves a variety of strategies and techniques that continuously drive process improvements and efficiencies. In other words, there’s no one way to implement lean recruitment – there are many.

At a high level, lean recruitment applies traditional supply chain management principles to recruiting, by identifying which steps in the process add value, and which do not. This involves reviewing every part of the recruitment strategy, finding inefficiencies, applying fixes, and then monitoring the results. Rinse and repeat for continuous improvement.

Lean recruitment can be broken down into the following phases:

  1. Looking at the entire recruitment strategy and process.
  2. Adapting the existing strategy, or creating a new one, and determining the core metrics you’ll use to monitor success.
  3. Reviewing the new strategy against those metrics, and identifying where the waste is.
  4. Adapting the process to reduce, eliminate, or bypass waste.
  5. Continuously monitoring your core metrics, and implementing improvements based on the results.

To accomplish this cadence of continuous improvement, recruiters can use a variety of tactics to drive efficiencies, including:

  • Refining how you search for candidates. This can include using fewer sources of recruitment, cutting out expensive and poorly performing ones, and being more concise about how you determine and advertise job requirements.
  • Spend more time doing more productive things. Analyze your process, and determine what activities add the most value. Put more resources toward those activities. This might involve spending more time talking to hiring managers, filling talent pipelines, or reducing menial tasks like resume screening and scheduling.
  • Automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks – Take a high-level look at the entire hiring process: from recruitment ad to onboarding. Identify any and all areas during that process that can be automated using your HR tech stack. Resume screening and shortlisting, for example, can be automated using an Applicant Tracking System. The goal is to spend fewer resources doing tasks that a computer can do.
  • Leverage referral programs – Referred candidates often lead to better hires than anonymous ones. They also don’t require you to screen hundreds of resumes to find one qualified candidate. Creating and using a referral program to backfill talent pipelines will lead to more efficient, JIT recruitment.
  • Analyze trends – You should always be leveraging the data available to you to identify recurring recruitment cycles and trends. Identify when and how often recruitment ramps up during a given year, and proactively plan your resources accordingly. This can also help with forecasting needs.
  • Talk to people outside of recruitment – Often, waste can occur due to misalignment or miscommunication with stakeholders outside of recruitment. Taking the time to regularly meet with hiring managers and strategic decision-makers can help to reduce churn, or hiring activities that don’t align with actual needs.
  • Create uniform procedures throughout the hiring process – Spend the time to create efficient and intuitive processes that your team can follow for every new hire. This will enable smooth movement through the hiring funnel, and reduce waste caused by misaligned team members.
  • Data, data, data – But not too much data: the right data. Determine what KPIs are important to you, and continuously measure and review them. Adapt your processes based on those results.

If a sustainable and efficient hiring process is a goal of your organization, then lean recruitment is a framework that you should consider adopting. While it might seem counter-intuitive to think of hiring people like you would build machine, lean manufacturing offers a wide range of best practices that are highly applicable to recruitment. And if you’re still skeptical, consider that Toyota is one of the most successful car manufacturers in the world. Lean has worked wonders for them, and it can do the same for you.

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